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  • The Confiscated Library of William Macintosh in the Bibliothèque Municipale d’Avignon
  • Innes M. Keighren (bio)

A vignon’s public library, like many others in France, was established during the revolutionary period and served as a repository for books seized from ecclesiastical collections and the private libraries of individuals, particularly those émigrés who had fled the country following the Revolution.1 Among the residents of Avignon whose books became confiscations révolutionnaires during this period was William Macintosh, a Highland Scot and former Caribbean plantation owner who had earned notoriety in the 1780s following the publication of a controversial travel narrative, Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782).2 In offering a stinging rebuke of the alleged corruption and mismanagement of the East India Company under the direction of Warren Hastings, Governor General of Bengal, Macintosh’s book became a cause célèbre, sparking a pamphlet war and attracting a wide and influential readership across Europe and North America.3

Precisely why Macintosh chose to establish a home in Avignon in the years following the publication of his book is not immediately obvious, although it is probable that he did so partly in pursuit of commercial [End Page 197] opportunities and partly in the hope that he might undertake, on a seemingly self-appointed basis, information gathering that might benefit the British government.4 Whether or not it was this latter activity that brought Macintosh to the attention of the revolutionary authorities, it is evident that by 1794 he was identified by them as an émigré. In January 1795 a requisition order was therefore issued by Avignon’s agent national, Pierre-Alexis Bruny (1758–1832), instructing the city’s archivist, Jean-Étienne Néry (1750–1837), to retrieve Macintosh’s books and papers from his home at Rue des 3 Testons.5 The seizure of Macintosh’s library—which commenced on 7 February 1795 (19 pluviôse an III)—was undertaken by two unnamed district commissioners who had been tasked with that duty by Néry and the district librarian, Jean-André Tempier. In addition to their responsibility for transporting Macintosh’s property to the district’s general depot, the commissioners compiled a narrative report of their activities and a bibliographical inventory, listing approximately eighty printed books and manuscripts.6

It is likely that the inventory of Macintosh’s library became separated from the books it described fairly soon after their seizure; the former (along with the majority of Macintosh’s personal papers) fell under the care of the Archives départementales de Vaucluse, officially established in 1796, while the latter became part of the collections of the Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon.7 A partial attempt was made to re-establish a correspondence between the inventory and the collections of the Bibliothèque municipale in 1990 under the auspices of an exhibition—‘Des Ecossais à Avignon’—organized at the Médiathèque Ceccano, the branch of the Bibliothèque [End Page 198] municipale that houses its rare books.8 Using the inventory as a guide, eight titles from Macintosh’s library were identified in the collections of the Médiathèque Ceccano and selected for exhibition. Beyond the 1990 exhibition, however, no further attempt has been made to reconstruct Macintosh’s library nor to determine how many of its titles remain in the care of the Bibliothèque municipale more generally. This is not to suggest that Macintosh has been forgotten by those archivists and librarians under whose care his materials reside; indeed, an item from his personal papers—a 1777 inventory of the Richmond Estate plantation in Dominica—was one among a small number of archival treasures selected for display in a 1996 exhibition marking the bicentenary of the Archives départementales de Vaucluse.9

Innes M. Keighren
Innes M. Keighren

Innes M. Keighren is Reader in Historical Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is currently writing a book on the world and words of William Macintosh, supported by a Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust.


The following listing presents a verbatim, item-level transcription of the 1795 inventory, together with the corresponding bibliographical details of the items it describes (or appears...